We sit around the campfire. The spring sunshine is warm against my back but the northerly wind is chill as it swirls the smoke around and up into the blue sky. The community garden is just starting to awaken after winter’s slumber. Bright yellow daffodils bob their heavy heads. Seedlings push green shoots up out of the black soil. I even spotted some frog spawn in the pond.
I hold out my hands and look at the soil which coats my skin. I’d been helping pot up tiny bean seedlings in the polytunnel with one of the other volunteers. She hadn’t spoken much and neither had I but we’d worked together all the same, easing out the delicate plants from their overcrowded tray and tucking them gently into pots of their own, giving them the space to grow.
The charity that runs the garden offers a place for refugees and people from disadvantaged backgrounds somewhere to come twice a week, somewhere to learn new skills, somewhere to sit in the peace and quiet of nature. And there is a beautiful sense of peace here, even though we’re only just on the edge of the city.
We sit around the campfire. The man sitting next to me has a large black beard and is wearing a red and orange patterned hat. He opens his rucksack and pulls out a tub of food and a fork. As he removes the lid, the delicious scent of exotic spices reaches me. The thin woman with long brown hair sitting on my other side opens a packet of organic crackers and starts nibbling one.
I didn’t bring any food. I didn’t have any food to bring. I wrap my arms around my chest, draw my hoodie tighter in around me.
The woman who runs the garden lifts a huge kettle off the fire, steam wisping from its spout. The man who runs the garden with her, sets out an assortment of mugs. Together they organise who is having what to drink. There’s as large a choice of teas as there are mugs. I lower my eyes, shake my head when asked.
“You had peppermint last time, didn’t you? It’s leaves we dried here last summer. Would you like that again?” the woman cajoles kindly.
I nod. She remembered what tea I drank, even though it’s been weeks since I last came here. I wrap my hands around the hot mug, the ragged sleeves of my jumper protecting my muddy skin from the scalding heat. My mug as a drawing of cats lifting weights and the words, ‘I have strong felines for you’. My lips twitch at the terrible pun. The man next to me has a mug painted with pink flowers, filled with black coffee. The clean, fresh scent of mint rises from my tea. I take a sip and the heat flows down into my empty stomach.
Someone passes around a tub of homemade fruit cake. Nearly everyone else has taken a slice, so I decide that it’s alright for me to take one too. I raise the cake towards my mouth but realise that I should have washed my hands. I don’t want to stand up now and go to the tap whilst everyone else is eating. Then I notice that the person sitting across from me who is wearing leopard print leggings also has muddy hands.
I eat the cake, savouring every bite. I realise that I don’t mind the soil on my hands, it reminds me of the seedlings, of the plants which produced the ingredients for the cake and I feel a connection, I feel part of some larger pattern.
My stomach rumbles in gratitude for the most food it’s had in days. Someone passes around a bowl of apples and then a box of protein bars. I take one of each, put the apple in my pocket for later.
We sit around the campfire. I feel the cold wind and then the heat from the flames, alternating as the breeze swirls around the circle. A bird sings in the tree to my left. I let the chatter of the other’s swirl around me as the warmth of food and companionship fills me.